France Telecom deputy replaced following spate of suicides

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The Independent Online

France Telecom, the communications company shaken by a series of work-related suicides, tried to quell rising public anger yesterday by replacing its deputy chief executive.

Louis-Pierre Wenes, the man in charge of domestic operations within France Telecom, had been accused by unions of promoting an aggressive and bullying culture at the company. He is to be replaced by Stéphane Richard, a former chief of staff to the French finance minister. Mr Richard was already due to become head of the company in 2011.

There have been 24 suicides in the past 19 months among France Telecom's 100,000 employees. Unions blame a policy of deliberate destabilisation of workers unable to cope with the cultural and technical changes in a company which has transformed itself in 13 years from a state utility to one of the world's biggest telecoms groups. The management also announced yesterday that job transfers, already suspended until the end of this month, would be frozen until January.

Mr Wenes had angered unions by saying he regretted that "a small number of employees cannot make the cultural shift from directory enquiries to [selling wifi] Livebox internet".

His departure was greeted with jubilation by unions yesterday. "We have won," said Patrice Diochet, a delegate of the moderate CFTC union federation. "The first proof we needed of France Telecom's goodwill was a change in management style."

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